Theatrical Review: WINTER IN WARTIME
Talk about a poor weekend to call home.
Amidst names like THE HANGOVER PART II, KUNG FU PANDA, and the debut of this little tiny film you may have heard of, Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE, yet another film premiere this long Memorial Day Weekend, the WWII drama, WINTER IN WARTIME. Opening in truly limited release, the film comes to us thanks to Danish director Martin Koolhoven, and is an adaptation of the beloved 1972 novel, penned by Jan Terlouw.
However, in a relatively stacked weekend, does this film really have the goods to be one to run out and hand over your hard-earned cash for?
WINTER follows the story of a young man, 13-year-old Michiel who, after helping aid a British paratrooper, must learn to cope with not knowing who he should or shouldn’t bestow his trust in. A time tested tale of good vs. evil, WINTER IN WARTIME is a well shot, gorgeously framed look at a boys loss of innocence, but one that may be best suited on the small screen following the film’s DVD and Blu-ray release.
The film stars Martijn Lakemeier who, as the film’s lead, must bear the burden of much of the film’s narrative weight. However, he is more than capable, as his performance is absolutely top notch, giving this film a great narrative and emotional center. His performance is utterly believable, despite the fact that the film itself is very much a melodrama, instead of a thriller. The film is inherently about a young man trying to make the most out of a world that he deems wholly and utterly insane and bizarre, and while the film itself is ultimately a bit of a mess, Lakemeier’s performance is the touchstone of this otherwise solid picture.
However, with tinges of a true blue thriller dispersed throughout the film, WINTER plays far more like a familial melodrama than anything relating a thrilling piece of cinema. With a swooping, often mind-numbingly heavy handed score and costume-like production and costume design, the film is a moving attempt at a coming of age narrative, but one that never quite becomes anything more than a terse and overly saturated mess of a melodrama.
That said, the film is a breathtaking picture to lay your eyes on. Koolhoven proves to be a much more gifted filmmaker than one would expect given his previous work, and one that has a great hand at the visual nature of motion picture storytelling. So much is told within Koolhoven’s frame that isn’t told through a performance, that while the performances given are quite melodramatic, the visual aspect of this film really hold its head above the water. Very much a Danish film, WINTER is a blue-tinted, cold and distant feature visually, that combined with the intimate, if melodramatic, narrative really makes for an engaging watch.
That said, it also does the film a disservice in many ways. One scene in particular, involving a firing squad, is the single manifestation of all that is wrong with this film. Shot in slow motion, the film’s score comes swooping in like an angelic chorus, and ultimately takes the viewer out of the experience of watching the film, instead of aiding in the immersion. Always left at arm’s reach, the viewer is never quite allowed to truly immerse oneself into the story, which does definitely hinder the inherently deep emotional core that the film has.
Overall, WINTER IN WARTIME is not at all a bad film. Melodramatic to a T, and ultimately more interesting visually than it is intimate, WINTER is an engaging coming of age story that features one hell of a lead performance, and some shots that will leave you breathless. Featuring great cinematography and top notch direction from Koolhoven, WINTER IN WARTIME is a film that may keep its viewers at a distance, but is one where that distance may be perfect for a rainy day.